The buzz has been positive around Jorge Soler’s mini-breakout campaign this year, as he’s turned in a .248/.312/.532 line with an eye-grabbing 21 home runs. It’s a good news-bad news situation for the Royals, as the jump in production makes Soler likely to decline a $4MM option and become eligible for arbitration, per MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan.
On the whole, he’s much the same player he’s always been, but the mere fact that he’s been healthy (knock on wood) is a positive change. But has his game improved otherwise? The realization of his long-tantalizing raw power (.284 ISO) makes up the majority of Soler’s improvement. Meanwhile, his walk rate has fallen below-average to 7.5 BB% and his strikeout rate is up a tick as well, though the quality of his contact has been strong across the board.
He will be an interesting arbitration case to follow, as slugger’s of Soler’s ilk generally fare better in arbitration than they might on today’s open market. C.J. Cron jumps to mind as a comp, whom the Rays DFA’ed after a 30-homer, 2.0 rWAR season rather than give a raise on his $2.3MM 2018 salary. Cron ended up in Minnesota for $4.8MM, where he’s already accumulated 2.0 rWAR via his .279/.344/.534 batting line. Such numbers might be a best-case scenario for Soler in 2020, as even Cron’s 2018 lands slightly higher than Soler’s 2019 by wRC+ (122 to 118).
Depending on where the Royals fall in their valuation of Soler, a non-tender would not be wholly unreasonable were he to opt into arbitration as Flanagan suggests. At 27-years-old, Soler should be entering his prime, and depending on how this season ends, he could be coming off the most prodigious power season in Royals history. Power pays in arbitration.
The Royals typically have their own way of doing things, however, and Soler’s power is a unique contribution on a roster that ranks 23rd in the majors in isolated power and slugging percentage. Their books remain relatively clean moving forward, especially after 2020 when only Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, and Whit Merrifield are under contract. Dayton Moore could attempt to buy out Soler’s two remaining arbitration years in one fell swoop. Investing in an injury-prone, one-dimensional designated hitter – even a good one – is not necessarily the safest stock option for the Royals, however.
It’s only June 22, so much of this story has yet to play out – but it’s never too early to gauge public opinion! Besides, what better way to start out your Saturday morning than with a healthy pondering of the best application of the Royals future payroll?
If Soler’s trajectory holds and he opts into arbitration, how should the Royals respond? (Poll link for app users.)